HARDYSTON, NJ - Five New Jersey Chefs squared off this past week for the title of the top Mac & Cheese in the state, during the New Jersey Mac & Cheese Cookoff, with one chef walking away with the top prize of Mac & Cheese Boss.
The Cookoff was one sold-out segment within a series of events, held at Crystal Springs this past weekend, March 15 through 17, during the New Jersey Wine and Food Festival.
JerseyBites.com, an online website crowing about what is happening in the world of New Jersey gastronomy, was the coordinator of the Mac & Cheese Cookoff event, along with Ménage A Trois, and Napa Cellars.
Other sponsors included: Wine Country Stores, R & R Marketing, United Airlines, BMW, and New Jersey Monthly.
originally began with 14 contestants, and was later whittled down to five, who came ready to tantalize the tasters' taste buds at Crystal Springs, with one finalist being chosen as the Mac & Cheese Boss of New Jersey.
Top five finalists were: Cielo Restaurant in Fairfield with their Hide n' Seek Mac n' Cheese; Crystal Tavern in Crystal Springs and their Hearty Winter Mac 'n Cheese - Sous Vide Buffalo Short Rib Macaroni with local artisinal cheese and a bone marrow gratin; Morris Tap & Grill in Randolph and the Crisp Menage Braised Pork Slab Cotswold Mac & Cheese; Nicole's Ten in Randolph with Chef Masey's Lobster Mac & Cheese; and, Irish Mac & Cheese from Tipperary Pub in Lakehurst.
"I will introduce the five finalists, and their five entries, and the public will be voting," Smith told The Alternative Press.
Smith said during the five different stations, guests could pair wine, with the different types of macaroni and cheese, enjoy, and then vote.
Joe Shirley of Napa Cellars introduced, and recommended a 2011 Chardonnay to paid with the various macaroni dishes.
Prior to the contest's commencement, The Alternative Press had the opportunity to speak with Tim Fischer, Executive Chef for the Grand Cascades Lodge at Crystal Springs, about their entry.
"We went outside the box, we like to do different things," said Fischer of their Hearty Mac 'n Cheese, which has influences of the Midwest, where Fischer originally hails from, with the Buffalo Short Rib, and bone marrow gratin.
Fischer explained that the hotel has a 55-acre organic farm, where many of their items originate from.
"It's very close to farm-to-table," Fischer added.
Attendees were curious about all the different Mac and Cheese variations, some stopping back to tables for second helpings.
Anthony Pucciarello of Cielo Restaurant served up an immense meatball to each visitor to his table with a poached egg inside, and filled with macaroni and cheese.
"I stuff it [the meatball] with Mac and Cheese, so the egg drips on top of it like a Carbonara Sauce," Pucciarello told attendees, as he dished out some macaroni.
Another macaroni variation was Nicole's Ten, with their Lobster Mac & Cheese.
"Our restaurant caters in modern comfort food," said executive chef, Chris Masey, as he scooped out a tri-colored pasta blend, with generous pieces of lobster within his restaurant's presentation.
Tipperary Pub celebrated the festive St. Patrick's Day with Irish Mac & Cheese, infused with what restaurant employees described as a "secret blend of cheese," Bangers (Irish Sausage), and Irish Bacon. Their Mac and Cheese was accompanied by a side of Irish Soda Bread, and peanut butter bites covered with chocolate for dessert.
Chef Eric B LeVine, who has been a champion on the Food Network's "Chopped," offered Mac & Cheese Cotswold style, with the side of Crisp Menage Braised Pork Slab. He spent time chatting with those who stopped by to his table, explaining more about his selection, which was topped off with red onions as well.
The time came for each person to vote, and they did so by dropping a pebble into their favorite entrant's jar.
"It's actually very sweet because the winner had participated in our crabcake competition," explained Smith, as she announced Nicole's Ten and their Lobster Mac & Cheese took the top prize.
Masey was presented with a large bottle of Napa Cellars for the win.
Smith said Crystal Springs ranked second place with their entry, and Cielo in third place.
The New Jersey Wine & Food Festival
was a two-day extravaganza, featuring chef José Andrés, a James Beard Foundation Outstanding Chef Award Winner. The weekend kicked off with champagne reception with Andrés, followed by a Top Chefs & Top Wines Dinner, or Wine Cellar Dinner.
The next day was a book signing with Andrés, the expansive Marketplace Lunch, Wine &Terroir, Secrets of the Crystal Springs Resort Wine Cellar, The Art of Blending Wine (Sold Out),The Vodka-Less Mixology Session, The House of Bushmill's, Dessert Wines, The Grand Tasting (with a silent auction event), and Meet the Chefs & Winemakers After Party.
The grande finale for the festival, and weekend, was an elegant Champagne Brunch.
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